Mauritanian authorities have recently charged a high school student with blasphemy following the
submission of a mock exam paper. The young woman was arrested last week on accusations of showing
disrespect to Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
If found guilty, the student could face an alarming sentence of death, with no possibility of appeal. This
severe penalty reflects Mauritania's strengthened blasphemy laws, which have undergone changes in
recent years, removing the clause that previously allowed offenders to avoid the death penalty by
Notably, Mauritania has not executed anyone for blasphemy in over three decades. However, the gravity
of this case and the potential consequences it carries has sparked international concern over the
application of such strict legislation.
The arrest took place on 18 July in the northwestern town of Atar. An official from the public prosecutor's
office in the capital, Nouakchott, disclosed that the charges against the student include "disrespect and
mockery of the Prophet" and the use of social networks to undermine the holy values of Islam. However,
specific details about the content of the exam paper were not released to the public.
In an attempt to seek leniency for their daughter, the student's family issued a statement to the pan-
Arabic newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi, citing her struggles with mental health issues. This development has
brought mental health considerations into the spotlight, raising questions about the fairness of harsh
punishments in such cases.
Another news outlet, al-Quds al-Araby, reported that the accused student belongs to the Haratin ethnic
group, which traces its roots to the descendants of sub-Saharan slaves. This information adds an
additional layer of complexity, as it underscores potential social and ethnic implications of the charges.
The official announcement of the student's arrest came shortly after Mauritania's religious authorities
issued a decree stating that those found guilty of insulting Prophet Muhammad should face the death
penalty. President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani's order to clarify the religious scholars' stance on
blasphemy preceded this edict.
Aside from the death penalty, Mauritania's blasphemy laws also impose up to two years in prison and a
fine for those convicted of lesser blasphemy offenses. The stringent nature of these laws has brought
them under scrutiny for their potential impact on freedom of speech and expression, as well as their
potential to disproportionately affect religious minorities or dissenting voices.
As this case unfolds, it continues to draw attention to the delicate balance between religious sensitivity
and human rights, leaving many questioning the implications of such legislation on personal liberties and
justice in Mauritania.
It is your natural right to critically examine and reject any faith or religion that is not in tune with your reason and common sense. Blasphemy laws are gross violations of Human Rights, Freethought, Free Speech, and Freedom of Expression. - Sanal Edamaruku